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    Happy 2019! It's a new year--time for a restorative. Me? Bok choy broth with tofu for lunch. The purple tinge is not your hangover talking to you--I added purple and gold "black" carrots to the bowl and it got a little Rose Parade on me.

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Take two on pears

pear almond torte

When pears are good, at the peak of ripeness and aromaticity, they’re very very good, and biting into one will see the juice roll down your chin. When they’re not at their peak, or even when they’re frankly over the hill, you can still use them to advantage.

Slightly underripe pears slice thin and stay crisp in salads or on a cheese platter, something like jicama or underripe watermelon. They’re just barely sweet, not unctuous enough to upset the balance with a sharp vinaigrette or an aged cheese.

Ripe pears can substitute well in a variety of desserts for either apples (when still firm) or bananas (when very ripe, or even overripe and getting mushy).

And they lend a note of European sophistication to many desserts (and salads, and even main dishes) thanks to a dry aromatic twist to their sweetness–not exactly bitterness, more like something that plays well with the bitter notes of almonds, hazelnuts, bittersweet chocolate and dry red wine. These are flavors that don’t mesh as well with most apples due to their more overt sweetness and higher acidity, and probably not so well with bananas either due to the novocaine factor. (Although I’ve never actually tried to pair bananas with cabernet, I can just imagine it. Not promising.)

So even if you’re not a big fan of raw pears, the occasional bargain bag may be worth considering for desserts. If you can get them organic at a decent price, do, because pears are on the “dirty dozen” list for absorbing pesticides. Trader Joe’s sells bags of 6-8 small to medium (3.5-4 oz.) organic pears for about $3 at this writing. But what if, as happens occasionally, the child who insisted she wanted them instead of apples yet again has eaten two, and the rest have sat neglected in the fridge for long enough to turn?

Overripe pears don’t look very nice on the outside and may have gone bland and/or brown, but they’ve still got what it takes if you peel them and cut away actual bad spots. If they’re only a little overripe and still flavorful, use them for a sorbet or microwave them for a minute or so to turn them “micro-poached.” If they’re really soft and going brown, peel and core them, remove all the brown bits and then mash or blend them as you would ripe bananas to give body and moisture to a cake or torte.

Here are two easy microwaveable desserts that use ripe to overripe pears and are Passover-worthy but can work anytime.

microwaved pear with chocolate

Micro-Poached Pears with Chocolate

This one’s very fast and impromptu–make just one pear or a few at a time and add a little time just as needed.

It can be hard to find chocolate that’s labeled kosher for Passover. Depending on your level of observance, consult the Orthodox Union’s Passover Guide, which changes year to year but  lists brands with kosher certification or acceptability even without a mark. If you eat kitniyot (beans, legumes, corn and peas, some spices, seeds and nuts) you can probably eat most chocolate that contains soy lecithin and vanilla. If not, look for the specially marked Elite chocolate bars that are kosher certified for Passover–for the Orthodox Union in the US, it’s the regular OU symbol (a capital U in a circle) but with a capital P superscript at the right. Other kosher certification at the Orthodox level is most likely to be the Hebrew letter kaf and/or a paragraph of Hebrew text naming the certifying rabbinical authority and location, sometimes with a circular seal containing the text (usually this is if it’s an Israeli product). There may be other certified or acceptable chocolates made with vanilla beans rather than extract (or without vanilla at all) and without lecithin–some of the high-end organic brands, for example.

  • Ripe to very ripe pears
  • Dark chocolate, your preference for cocoa percentage, brand, etc.
  • optional: turbinado or regular granulated sugar, cinnamon, powdered ginger etc. for sprinkling (check the OU site if you need to; regular granulated sugar is certified as-is but brown sugars aren’t always, and ground spices need to be certified for Passover)

Wash the pears, split in half and trim out the seed core and stem threads.

Lay the halves face up on a dish or plate that can go in the microwave. Place a square of chocolate on each half about where the core was.

Microwave 1-2 minutes per pear, just until the chocolate starts to melt and bubble and the pears are tender. Sprinkle with turbinado or other sugar and spices as desired before or after microwaving.

Eat with a knife and fork–add blackberries or a dollop of yogurt on the side if you want. Let it cool a little before digging in–I’m never that good and the roof of my mouth sometimes suffers for it.

Making the best of bad pears

The second recipe is yesterday’s riff on the Banana Ginger Almond Torte (from the I can haz cake?! Passover breakfast menu scheme…) crossed with my lightened-up version of Nigella Lawson’s “Damp Apple Almond Cake.”

five overripe pearstrimmed pears

Only, obviously, I had 5 small way-overripe pears to deal with. Brownish to quite brown on the outsides. But good enough inside to yield about 1 to 1 1/2 cups of pear once they were trimmed. And the result was seriously delicious.

pear almond torte slice

A 1/12th slice is not big in volume but it is fairly dense and rich from the almond meal, and definitely flavorful from the lemon, ginger and amaretto.

Microwave and/or conventional oven Pear-Almond Torte (~12 servings)

  • ~200-250 (6-8 ounces or so) grams of mashed pear pulp (3-5 overripe pears, peeled, cored, brown spots trimmed and stringy bits removed
  • 180 grams (1 3/4 c, more or less) almond meal
  • 180 grams (1 3/4 c) granulated sugar
  • 1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • juice of 1 medium lemon, plus grated rind of 1/2-1 organic lemon, about 1/4 t. fresh (so if you start with an organic lemon, wash and grate first, then cut and juice it)
  • 2 heaping T matzah cake meal (or fine-grind 1 to 1 1/2 sheets of crumbled matzah in a coffee grinder or food processor)
  • 4 eggs, separated (I only use 3 yolks but you could keep it )
  • 2-3 T amaretto liqueur or 1 t almond extract
  • optional small pinch or shake or grinding of nutmeg
  • Optional topping for looks plus a little nice caramelized crunch: a little more sugar for sprinkling, plus a handful of toasted or untoasted sliced almonds

Separate the eggs and put the whites in a bowl for whipping. If you’re baking conventionally, heat the oven to 350F. If you have a modern microwave about 1100 W, use a high-sided microwave-safe ceramic or Corelle ware casserole or soufflé dish and a microwaveable dinner plate for a lid–it’s also good to stand the whole thing on an overturned saucer or shallow soup bowl to raise the casserole up a little.

If you have a food processor, start by whizzing the almond meal, sugar and matzah meal or crumbs together until everything is finely ground powder.  Add the pear flesh, 3 egg yolks (or four if you’re keeping the last one), the flavorings and lemon juice to the food processor and blend well.

If you don’t have a food processor, grind the almond meal and sugar together in batches in a coffee grinder if you can–this is optional but makes the cake texture a bit finer. Mash the pears with a fork against the side of a mixing bowl. Add all the rest of the ingredients except the egg whites.

Once you have the batter blended, whip the egg whites with a mixer, a balloon or regular whisk, or even two forks in a bowl until stiff peaks form. Either fold the egg whites into the mixing bowl with the batter and then pour into the casserole dish, or, if your egg white bowl is big enough to hold it all, pour the contents of the food processor bowl into it while folding (pour toward the side of the bowl with the egg whites so you don’t deflate them). Or pour one of the mixtures into the baking dish and fold the other one into it right on the spot.

If you’re microwaving, set the casserole on the overturned saucer on the turntable, put the dinner plate on top for a lid, and microwave on 70% power for 7 minutes. Use hot mitts or a kitchen towel to carefully lift the lid to check (open edge facing away from you so you don’t steam your face). If it’s still shaky in the middle, put the lid back on and give it another 2-3 minutes at full power.

If you’re baking conventionally, put the casserole dish on a foil-lined tray and bake 30-40 minutes or until risen (possibly fallen back down as well) and a toothpick comes out clean. The cake may be very soft on top.  You may need to keep an eye on it toward the end to make sure the top isn’t browning too much–if it is lay a piece of foil over it loosely to protect it.

pear almond torte in the oven

For either cake, once it’s cooked but still pale, you can sprinkle on a spoonful of sugar, sprinkle on the handful of sliced almonds, sprinkle on another spoonful of sugar, and return to a 350F oven for 15-20 minutes until the aroma comes up and the top edges of the cake start to brown.

Carb counts are about 360 grams for the whole recipe, so 36 grams for 1/10th cake and about 30 per 1/12th. However, as we have found at home, if you have to take insulin for it, you might need to count a 1/12th slice at about 25 grams of carb and see how you do, because the fat, fiber and protein in the almond meal can all slow down the carbs enough to make dosing for 30 a little too high.

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